House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson said today that the House and the Senate intend to pass a reform-oriented farm bill conference report with substantial limits on subsidy payments, and predicted that a White House veto would be "political suicide" because Congress will have the votes to override it. Key negotiators reached agreement on the content of the farm bill Tuesday. Senate Agriculture Chairman Tom Harkin said he is waiting for CBO scores for some measures, but that he would like to hold a formal conference later today or Thursday at the latest. Peterson and Harkin both said they hope to take the farm bill to the floor next week but that they will need a two-week extension of the 2002 farm bill to get it passed and for Bush to sign it.
Speaking to the National Association of Farm Broadcasters, Peterson remarked that when Agriculture Secretary Schafer and Deputy Secretary Chuck Conner met with key negotiators, they said they had no authority to negotiate changes in the demands the administration presented Feb. 29. "That's a hell of a way to operate," Peterson said. "We're going to move ahead. If [Bush] doesn't sign it, we're going to override." Harkin also said it was clear Schafer and Conner did not have negotiating authority.
Senate Agriculture ranking member Saxby Chambliss told the farm broadcasters he intends to present the Senate with a bill that will garner a veto-proof majority. "A big vote on the Senate side ... will strongly encourage [Bush] to accept it," he said. Chambliss has requested a meeting for Republican senators with Bush today or Thursday to discuss the farm bill, but said the White House has not given them an appointment. "You'd think because they are our guys down at the White House they'd give us an immediate response," Chambliss said. House Agriculture ranking member Bob Goodlatte said believes he will support the bill when all the details are worked out and that he is requesting a White House meeting for House Republicans.
But White House Press Secretary Dana Perino denied today that the White House is refusing to meet with Republican senators on the bill. She said administration and congressional officials have each had "access to share their views both ways," including during a visit to Capitol Hill Tuesday by Schaefer. Perino said that "it is premature to say that anything is final" on the farm bill and that the White House was continuing to talk to lawmakers about the measure.
Harkin confirmed today that negotiators agreed on payment limits for nonfarmers and farmers based on their adjusted gross income. For nonfarmers, subsidies would be banned in 2009 if their income is $750,000. The cap falls to $650,000 in 2010 and to $500,000 in 2011. Farmers with incomes up to $950,000 would still be able to get subsidies, but for every $100,000 in income above that, they would lose 10 percent of their direct payments. The limit on the amount of direct payments a farmer could get would rise to $50,000. Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad said the payment limits would also apply to conservation programs.
This article appears in the May 3, 2008, edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.